Sterlin Thompson garnered interest from professional scouts leading up to the 2020 MLB draft. But due to MLB limiting the draft to just five rounds, the Florida high school senior went undrafted.
Thompson joined the University of Florida baseball program in fall 2020. Attending one of the country’s top programs has worked out well for Thompson, who had a highly productive first-year last season. The draft-eligible sophomore outfielder has developed his skills and enhanced his draft status in anticipation of the 2022 draft.
Scouts project Thompson as a potential early-round pick in this year’s draft. Despite the attention, Thompson is trying his best to focus on Florida’s success this season.
“I’m not focused on the draft right now, as I just want to come together as a team and focus on going to Omaha,” Thompson said. “After the season, that will all play out. I’m just really focused on the team aspect right now.”
As a freshman last year, Thompson was an everyday player for Florida. He produced at a high level, hitting .301 with 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 27 RBIs in 183 at-bats in 55 games.
Thompson is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound left-handed hitter who uses a short and compact swing to drive the ball to all fields. He has a strong feel for hitting and an advanced approach at the plate. He has notable raw power, but it didn’t show up a ton in games last year, as he was more of a line-drive hitter.
This spring, Thompson hopes to show a more refined two-strike approach. He squares up fastballs consistently but sometimes struggles against off-speed pitches. He feels his off-season work will help him keep his bat in the zone longer, so he can make better contact against off-speed pitches.
“The biggest strength is my natural hit ability,” Thompson said. “I’m just a pure hitter who can hit the ball to all fields with a mature approach. I just try to hit it to the middle of the field and take what the pitcher gives me. I’m very still in my stance and try to have a short swing and hit line drives.”
In high school, Thompson was a shortstop. Despite only playing in the infield during his prep career, Florida moved Thompson to the outfield last season due to the team’s logjam of talented infielders.
Thompson made all 54 of his appearances as a freshman in right field. It took time for Thompson to get acclimated to the position, but it worked out well and allowed him to receive playing time immediately as a freshman.
Thompson likely will spend most of his time in right field this season. But he anticipates moving around the diamond at times and playing other positions, he said. He has received infield reps in practice, including seeing time at third base in the fall.
“This year, I will be more versatile,” Thompson said. “I think it will be more outfield heavy with me starting in right field. I have been working in the infield and outfield leading up to this season. My versatility is a strength of mine.”
Thompson hopes his offseason work will allow him to take a step forward in his development this season. He will play an important role for Florida due to his hitting ability and versatility.
Expectations were high for Florida last season. The Gators were the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the country. They didn’t necessarily live up to the preseason expectations, as their season ended in the NCAA Regional. They hosted the regional but lost to South Florida and South Alabama to finish with a 38-22 record.
This season, the Gators have another talented team. They hope to learn from the adversity they faced last year and claim the program’s second-ever national championship this season.
“As a team, there is a lot of unfinished business after losing at home last season,” Thompson said. “We have a chip on our shoulder coming into this season. We have the drive to pursue that one goal.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for seven years. He has interviewed 356 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.